It’s all over for Goldman Sachs star Tim Leissner

Goldman Sachs senior executive Tim Leissner is banned in Singapore for life from operating any securities related business, signalling the end of the road for one of the firm’s most influential figures of the last 16 years.

Goldman Sachs, an institution with a longstanding reputation for extremely aggressive and effective methods of holding onto its gargantuan interbank FX dealing market share and ever expanding investment banking division, both of which are core business areas, has become the focus of attention again, this time surrounding the demise of one of its most widely renowned stars, Tim Leissner.

This morning, Tim Leissner was banned by the Singaporean government for life from participating in any securities industry activity in Singapore as a result of his embroilment in the multi-billion dollar incident at 1MDB, representing the latest action by a government over the alleged crimes surrounding the Malaysian state investment fund.

Mr Leissner, who has already pleaded guilty in the US to crimes in connection to 1MDB, was in 2017 banned for 10 years by the Monetary Authority of Singapore. That penalty was increased by the authority this week.

Rather oddly, last month, Mr Leissner placed the blame on the corporate culture that exists and is so strong within Goldman Sachs for his actions, and had given prosecutors the impression that he may now be able to be used as an instrument to lift the lid on an overtly aggressive methodology that he says exists within Goldman Sachs.

Goldman Sachs’s former top banker in Asia says the culture of secrecy at the investment bank led him to conceal wrongdoing from the company’s compliance staff. In his guilty plea, which was unsealed in early November, Mr Leissner said others at the bank helped him conceal bribes used to retain business in Malaysia, suggesting he has more to offer prosecutors.

The heavily redacted transcript doesn’t indicate whether he is cooperating with authorities. But the judge warned him that under federal sentencing guidelines he faces decades in prison. Providing useful information to prosecutors might help Leissner get a more lenient sentence.

Mr Leissner’s Aug. 28 statement to the judge may give prosecutors more leverage to go after the bank, and other executives, for their roles in raising $6.5 billion for the Malaysian fund, 1MDB. Prosecutors say more than $4 billion was siphoned off by friends and family of the nation’s prime minister, among others. “I conspired with other employees and agents of Goldman Sachs very much in line of its culture of Goldman Sachs to conceal facts from certain compliance and legal employees of Goldman Sachs,” he said.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore has stated that the scope of the prohibition order against the former Goldman Sachs employee had also been broadened to stop him becoming a substantial shareholder or a capital markets services licensee.

The move came two days after Malaysian prosecutors said they had filed criminal charges against Goldman Sachs, Mr Leissner and another former Goldman Sachs employee, Roger Ng Chong Hwa, for their role in the alleged embezzlement of billions of dollars from 1MDB.

The bank said it disputed the allegations and would defend itself.

The prime minister of Malaysia had a message for the crowd at the Grand Hyatt San Francisco in September 2013. “We cannot have an egalitarian society – it’s impossible to have an egalitarian society,” Najib Razak said at the time, however he added “Certainly we can achieve a more equitable society.”

Tim Leissner

Mr Leissner enjoyed the festivities that night with model Kimora Lee Simmons, who’s now his wife.

In snapshots she posted to Twitter, she’s sitting next to Najib’s wife, and then standing between him and Mr Leissner. Everyone smiled but soon it went awry. At least US$681 million landed in the prime minister’s personal bank accounts that year, money his government has said was a gift from the Saudi royal family and the windfall triggered turmoil for him, investigations into the state fund he oversees and trouble for Goldman Sachs, which helped it raise US$6.5 billion, resulting in Mr Leissner, the firm’s Southeast Asia chairman at the time leaving the company when questions about the fund, his work on an Indonesian mining deal and an allegedly inaccurate reference letter arose.

Mr Leissner, who joined Goldman Sachs in 1998 and very quickly networked in the right circles in the APAC region, worked tirelessly and got the best deals done, soon became head of the entire region.

Mr Leissner, whose father was a Volkswagen AG executive in Yugoslavia during the Bosnian War before stints in Mexico and China, graduated from Germany’s University of Siegen and got an MBA from the University of Hartford in Connecticut in 1992. At a 2001 gathering of young Asian leaders, the program listed him as Dr Leissner for his workshop “What would happen had Einstein joined Wall Street?”

A biography he provided at another forum said he got a doctorate in business administration from Somerset University. A school with that name offered degrees for US$995, a retired federal investigator told a US congressional committee on education in 2004, unleashing investigations into bogus certificates.

Mr Leissner’s contacts were more impressive. In May 2006, he was sitting onstage when the conglomerate controlled by billionaire Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary announced its takeover of power producer Malakoff Bhd, what it called “the largest acquisition ever undertaken in Malaysia.”

Goldman Sachs was an adviser on the deal. That year, Mr Leissner made partner. The firm helped manage billionaire T Ananda Krishnan’s 2009 initial public offering of Maxis Bhd, Malaysia’s biggest wireless operator. Mr Krishnan also controlled Astro Malaysia Holdings Bhd, the largest pay-TV broadcaster, and Goldman Sachs was there when it went public, too.

Mr Leissner was open about his ambition. The firm wanted to do more business in Malaysia, he said in an interview carried by a government news agency in Asia. That was before Mr Najib became prime minister in 2009. By the end of that year, the nation’s securities commission cited the new leader’s “strategic shift” when it announced that Goldman’s application to start operations for fund management and corporate finance was approved.

That smoothed the way for the firm’s blockbuster deals with 1MDB, which began as an investment fund set up by oil-rich Terengganu state before Mr Najib took it over as a development fund.

Mr Leissner’s contacts are massive and influential in Malaysia and Singapore, which is why a ban in that particular region is particularly significant to his future prospects.

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